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Jakarta Post

Prepare to evacuate

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, January 29, 2020   /   08:08 am
Prepare to evacuate Staff members hold photographs of Indonesian students from Aceh trapped in the Chinese city of Wuhan following a lockdown due to a deadly virus outbreak, at an information booth in Banda Aceh on January 28, 2020. (AFP/Chaideer Mahyuddin)

To date, the World Health Organization has not yet declared the global spread of the new coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern”, but it has nevertheless urged China to continue to cooperate by providing information about all related developments.

WHO director general Tedros A. Ghebreyesus visited Beijing on Monday to meet with China’s officials and experts. The WHO has conveyed expectations that China’s swift measures, including locking down cities suspected of having cases of the infection, would effectively contain the virus in a short period.

Despite the world body’s trust in the Chinese government, various governments that have citizens in China, particularly in Hubei province where the city of Wuhan is located — a major hub where the new coronavirus was first detected — have been preparing to relocate their citizens. Among them are Japan, the United States and South Korea, while Indonesia has not announced its decision.

We expect the government to do everything within its power to protect Indonesian citizens and relocate them for their safety, as part of its constitutional responsibility. The Foreign Ministry says it is continuing to coordinate with Chinese authorities and the Indonesian missions in China, which unfortunately do not exist in Hubei, where about 200 Indonesians, including students, are living. Several Indonesians told the press they hope to return home and are worried about supplies amid a rise in food prices following the lockdown.

So far 107 fatalities in China have been reported as a result of contracting the virus, for which a cure does not yet exist. Confirmed cases across China have reached 4,515 and there are about 40 in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australia. China has had to deal with a huge number of people traveling domestically for the Lunar New Year holiday.

The Indonesian government has experience in rescuing citizens from war zones like the Middle East, but this time around the operation, if any, would be different and certainly more complicated. The government needs to heed the guidance of the WHO, particularly concerning international travel safety measures amid an outbreak.

Experts have called for draconian travel restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. However, this could lead to indefinite lockdowns on traveling outside China and increasing uncertainty regarding the well-being of Indonesian citizens.

At home the government would need to step up measures to train all health workers at the ports of entry on the standard procedures for screening incoming travelers, including those arriving evacuees, who display symptoms such as fever, coughing and difficulty breathing.

We have not gone as far as Malaysia, which has stopped issuing visas for Chinese citizens from Wuhan and other areas around Hubei province. All travelers from China entering Indonesia have been requested to fill in health alert cards, which should be given to the health authorities when they feel the above symptoms.

We, like the WHO, would like to trust China in caring for all our citizens, but worried Indonesian nationals have the right to their government’s protection. Especially if they fall sick, they would likely prefer to be nearer to their kin.

Meanwhile, the original source of the new coronavirus remains unconfirmed, but this should not deter us from doing what it takes to save more souls from the threat.